Lean startup : what we learned from our pilot projects at Pack Your Skills

(Version française ici)

When we met, one of the first things on which Maxime and I agreed was Lean Startup. For Pack Your Skills, we wanted to start quick and improve our product directly from our users’ feedback, with the aim of building a solution adapted to their needs.

The concept of Pack Your Skills, that we co-found, is to enable travelers to get involved in social entrepreneurship by offering theirs kills in exchange for accommodation, for the duration of their volunteering.

Our pilot project happened from March 18 to April 1st, 2017. Objective : validate some of our hypotheses and give us material to build our web platform.

This fornight’s time was a key moment of Pack Your Skills launch. Indeed, we didn’t know if the enthusiasm that stood out in the marketing surveys would turn into successful linking between Packers (travelers) and Crews (social entrepreneurship projects). If it did, we could be reassured and officially (and rapidly) launch Pack Your Skills. Otherwise, we would have to all the concept into question, make adjustments and work on new hypotheses.

In the end, our pilot project was a success that enabled us to both validate hypotheses and give us areas of improvement, that is exactly what we were expecting from our lean startup approach.

In this article, we are presenting what we learned from that first pilot project, during which projects in Paris welcomed travelers from Serbia, Czech Republic and Hawaï.

Credit : Kay Salera

Results were more positive than expected

The first thing we can say is that we were pleasantly surprised that the project pilot went so well and so positively. This observation is very encouraging for the future of Pack Your Skills.

1/ Four major hypotheses validated

The four most important hypotheses from our list were validated thanks to this pilot project :

  • Hypothesis #1 : “Travelers and entrepreneurs show interest in the concept” → we received 12 projects’ applications and 20 travelers’ applications from 12 countries.
  • Hypothesis #2 : “Crews (projects) need specific skills” → candidate projects easily knew what skills they needed (photo, video, graphic design) and what tasks to ask about them
  • Hypothesis #3 : “Packers (travelers) are prone to offer their skills in exchange for something else than money” → not only did all the projects agree, but they were very enthusiastic about it
  • Hypothesis #4 : “Crews are prone to host travelers in exchange for their skills” → affirmative
  • Bonus : Hypothesis #5 : “Crews are prone to pay for the service provided by Pack Your Skills, that sources specific skills” → all candidates said they were prone to pay

2/ Proof of our capacity to find Packers and Crews

The whole stake of our project is to be able to find social entrepreneurs who are willing to host a traveler, and then find a traveler matching their request. With or without a web platform, our job is to develop those two communities. As part of the pilot project, we managed to find both entrepreneur and travelers in only two months. Besides, our first 3 Packers -Anna, Milica, and Kay- showed very high-level skills.

Yet, at this time, we were only “1.5”. Indeed, I was still employed at NouMa and the duet’s strike force was essentially based on Maxime’s. Now that we are two, full time, we are confident in our capacity to accelerate our execution speed.

3/ A plausible business model scenario

At the time we listed our hypotheses, we imagined 6 different scenarios for our business model (we have other ideas now). The pilot project allowed us to test our first scenario : free for Packers, paid service for Crews. And it worked so this scenario is plausible. However, is it the most relevant and profitable ? It will have to be verified with other tests.

We had chosen to let Crews pay with willing offering, that is tell us themselves how much they wanted to pay for Pack Your Skills’ service. This enabled us to get an idea of the perceived value of our service by the Crews.

4/ 100% satisfaction

The most beautiful data collected from this pilot project is that 100% of the participants told us they lived a great experience. In her video, Milica even says she “knows herself better”, has “more self-confidence”. And in hers, Anna highly recommends to come live the Pack Your Skills experience. As for Florent, after the two weeks, he wanted to raise his willing offering by 25%.

Areas of improvement that stood up from the pilot project

We have very happy about the positive results of the experience. But we may be even more delighted to have learned what were the areas of improvement to build an even more enjoyable solution.

1/ Cope with withdrawals

While we had selected 5 projects among the 12 candidates, only 2 participated : Le Drenche and Pack Your Skills (ourselves). Crews and Packers who withdrew did it mostly unwillingly :

  • 1 traveler accepted a long-term contract last-minute and had to cancel his volunteering
  • 1 traveler couldn’t come because she couldn’t obtain the right Visa on time
  • 1 project put up with a high raise of work load and didn’t feel capable of welcoming a traveler anymore

But this doesn’t prevent that the linking cannot happen, and one of the two parties has reasons to be unsatisfied.

In order to compensate last-minute withdrawals, we decided to write a charter of commitment (one for the Packers, one for the Crews), so they are aware of the minimum commitments required with such an experience. We will also give more details about the timing, by giving deadlines before which Crews and Packers will have to confirm the exchange.

2/ Deal with legal matters

Our concept leads to some legal questions :

  • Intellectual property : who gets the copyright on what is produced during the mission ? Is a signed agreement between both parties enough to give property to the project ? Is the project compelled to mention the name of the person who produced if the latter doesn’t perceive any royalties ?
  • Labour law : where is the limit with concealed work when such a service is given without a financial compensation ? Is there a maximum duration to respect before it is considered as a replacement to hiring ? What is the difference between a Packer and a provider ?
  • Taxation : can exchanging a service for accommodation be taxable ? If yes, how is this evaluated ?
  • Workplace accidents : in case of physical accident, who is responsible ? Is it considered as a workplace accident within volunteering time ?
  • Insurance : how to protect from theft, breakage, degradation of the accommodation ? Does it fall to us as a platform ?

Although the pilot project went to great at all levels, we wish to bring answers to those legal questions in order to protect and reassure the different participants. Any help is welcome on that matter :)

3/ Build trust

Anna and Milica confided that they felt apprehension before coming. They were scared to come across malicious people, or even psychopaths. We totally understand that as those are thoughts that come through the minds of many people when they use Couchsurfing or carpool for example.

We therefore asked ourselves two questions :

  • How do the big platforms like Airbnb, Blablacar and Couchsurfing built trust ? We intend to take a leaf out of them, in particular by setting up a rating and recommendation system between users.
  • What motivated Anna and Milica into coming despite their fears ? They answered that talking to our team reassured them because we seemed sympathetic and benevolent (which we are !). We therefore intend to stress transparency of information : give more information about us, about the progress of their time in Paris, about hosts…

4/ Democratiazing our concept

Finally, when Florent said he wanted to raise his financial participation by 25% after the experience, we realized that his perceived value before and after the experience was different. We explain that by the fact that Florent didn’t exactly know what to expect : what level of skills would the Packer have ? Would I spend good time with him/her ? Would he have time to finish the mission I gave him/her ?

This acknowledgement reminds us two important things to develop :

  • For Crews, give more information about the Packers profile, the selection process, and the experience progress
  • Globally, democratizing the concept. Indeed, since it is innovative, we need to be even more precise and reassuring because there is no such reference on that matter. That is one of the reasons why we took time to record testimony videos of Anna, Milica and Florent, so that they could give feedback with their own words to people who would not entirely trust our organization.

Conclusion

Following this first edition of March, we will repeat the experience in June, 2017, for 15 days again. Our purpose is to detect new areas of improvement before opening the web platform.

We will open to one new skill (Webmarketing) in order to broaden the panel of possible missions and test new channels to see which work the best to find that specific skill.

We would like to raise the numbers of participating projects (and therefore the number of travelers coming to Paris) to be able to communicate more broadly on the concept.

If you know people who would like to travel to Paris and who are skilled in either video/photo/graphic design/webmarketing,you can send their contact at hello@packyourskills.com or tell them to write to us on our Facebook page.

And if YOU are interested in our concept, you can subscribe to our newsletter for free by clicking “register” here. You will be noticed for every key moment.

Finally, if you have answers to the legal questions we ask ourselves, we will be very glad to talk with you :)